part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4
DAY 9 - Thursday 4-12-18 - Kruger National Park Game Drive
The day begins at dawn with coffee, tea, and rusks, a South African dry biscuit. Upon departure from the hotel, a pre-packed breakfast will be provided for you. Then, on to Kruger National Park for a thrilling full day open-vehicle game drive. Larger than the state of Connecticut, the park offers some of the best game and wildlife viewing opportunities in the world, and early morning is an optimal time of day. You may have a chance to see lion, elephant, giraffe, or zebra in their natural habitat. After stopping at a rest camp for lunch on your own, continue your game drive. With any luck, you may even see cheetah and leopard. After the day's excitement, relax by the pool and enjoy dinner at the hotel.
the game drive in hluhluwe was one of my favorite activities, so i was really looking forward to more at kruger national park. & i was in no way disappointed. we woke at 4:45am, snacked on rusks in the lobby (tasty as hell! also suuuuper crispy & dense, so i made a bunch of jokes about being unable to hear anyone while eating one), then left in the dark for kruger national park. ahmet chatted about the "big five", the "ugly five", & the "little five". there are 510 recorded bird species in kruger, & over 100 reptile & amphibian species. south africa has the largest "civilized safari"; kenya has wonderful safaris too but they're not so luxe.
at the park, i was beckoned over to the restrooms, where a worker was using a broom to chase away a snake! i got some photos & was able to make a positive ID - a baby african house snake. ^_^ i asked if the worker wanted me to catch the snake for him, but he freaked out despite my showing him that the little snek bb is harmless, so i let him continue with his broom.
there was an extended wait - the guides were late by about 45 minutes, but it wasn't their fault - so i bought a marula soda at the gift shop. why is there comic sans everywhere i go? but i liked the drink. we climbed into our jeeps & began the safari. we quickly found zebras & a female kudu, then a bunch of young male impalas all together - the guide said they're a "group of losers" since there weren't any females, & many jokes were made. next came a saddle-billed stork (only around 200 are in the park, so that was quite a find), more hippos, & a white-backed vulture up in a tree. there were many huge termite mounds around - apparently the ones with holes in them are abandoned & will flood out in the next rain.
then came some huge african elephants - the fourth of the "big five" for us. we kept going & found plenty more elephants, including one that walked right up to the car. i was twenty feet away, if that. he kept walking behind our car while i took video & tried to keep my jaw off the ground. another elephant was spotted soon after, lifting his tail, & i giggled madly while photographing mid-air wild elephant poop. we saw wildebeest - i said, "they look delicious," & the less adventurous eaters in the car groaned at me. some gorgeous hyenas crossed our path quickly, & were a half mile away in no time at all. we saw a dead impala that i declined to photograph, but our guide speculated that a leopard or cheetah may be nearby since it was reasonably fresh. next we saw another buffalo, some kind of raptor flying around, & a white rhino's butt. i kept hoping for more rhino... [foreshadowing!] a bateleur eagle was seen eating something, maybe a lizard. & more giraffes.
we stopped to eat our sack breakfast at the little gift shop/restaurant area, though i'd eaten most of mine already - a granola bar, a vanilla pear yogurt, mango juice, a hard boiled egg, & a banana. (there were several other items too, but i left them on a table for someone else - i'm only little.) i photographed a bushwillow tree pod i thought was cool, & chased [with my camera] the gorgeous iridescent blue cape glossy starlings that were everywhere. i ran into the gift shop with a few minutes remaining, & bought some eland biltong, bringing the New Animals Eaten count to six. (i liked it a lot, but it was extremely gamey, so i didn't eat much of it.)
back on the road, we saw a young martial eagle, a male kudu, & were teased about a leopard someone had called in but we couldn't find. there was another white rhino spotted - the white rhinos eat grass & black rhinos eat leaves, & black rhinos are MUCH harder to find - but i couldn't get a better pic than i had before... until we saw THREE rhinos (including two babies) relaxing in the bush. :D we found warthogs, chacma baboons (including a baby riding around on the adults), red & yellow hornbills, a small blue waxbill, & finally... our first leopard! i got two decent photos of him as he went into the bush (including his little pink nose if you look closely), & we cheered for having seen all of the "big five" live & wild here in africa. our guide said that leopards are very small but dangerous, & i got some laughs for replying, "just like me!" i finished out this section of the game drive with some incredible shots of a lilac-breasted roller.
i'd forgotten we were going back to the same area for lunch as for breakfast, so i was able to spend more time in the gift shop. i bought some marula jam since i liked the soda (& i prefer more "pure" experiences than "contains 10% juice" anyhow. it's quite tasty, btw - kind of like a dark apricot flavor), blesbok jerky sticks (animal count: seven - it was okay, but i should've bought it as biltong instead), & i thought i was picking up a can of venison pâté to check the ingredients & see what animal this place calls venison, but then realized i was holding zebra pâté. fuck yeah i bought it! grabbed some crackers they thoughtfully sold, too. i wasn't really hungry after so much breakfast, so i stashed my pâté for later.
it had rained while i was in the gift shop - & only while i was in the gift shop. we'd been warned to expect rain, & the safari would've sucked if it had, as all the animals would've hidden & we surely would've gotten wet & cold. it was pretty chilly as it was - i needed both my usual fleece & the heavier jacket i brought that i didn't think i'd have any use for at all - but i was extremely glad the rain held off.
at that point, it was around 2pm, & we headed back to the bus through the park. it took about an hour, & apparently kruger decided to give us a serious grand finale. we saw a brown snake eagle, then FIVE RHINOS BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD. they were as close to us as the elephant had been. i mentioned i'd most wanted to see hippos & rhinos, & while i'd seen a dozen rhinos, i had only seen one or two faces & no full beasts... this was the dream. i snapped tons of photos & took video as they clomped around. our guide pointed out a poison tree, a tameoti, that he said only kudu & a couple other animals can manage to eat; & then, also by the side of the road, two month old baby hyenas. we all died of cute & were resurrected by cute as they napped & yawned & washed their fur & cuddled.
almost back at the bus, we saw a waterbuck & a great number of vervet monkeys, which i'd been unable to photograph at hluhluwe & which were basically posing out for us... but before that, we found another leopard - & he was eating an impala in a tree. he was just far enough off that it was difficult to focus but within range of my 20x zoom, & i took photo after photo hoping for proper focus. (none were perfect, but i did better than expected, as you'll see.) i had some of my eland biltong in solidarity. :D i was so emotionally spent at that point that all i wanted to do was go back to my room & rest, haha. we exited by the numbi gate. on the forty or so minutes back to the hotel, we reviewed what we'd seen, & ahmet noted that when you see the guides, who make these drives every day, getting excited about something in the park, then you know you saw something special.
i had a few hours to relax & write, & i tried the zebra pâté - it tasted like the gamiest liverwurst. i liked it, but couldn't eat much since it was so rich. i wasn't in my room an hour before it started pouring rain - perfect timing. :)
dinner was at the hotel again, since nothing else was around. the impala venison was cut off a roast this time, & it was again pretty good, but nothing like what i bought on my own here. i enjoyed the meal, & their little cinnamon-dusted custard tarts were excellent. i fell asleep for the second night to the loudest crickets in all the world, & slept soundly.
music: weakerthans, "time's arrow"
music: j church, "lost demo #08"
music: j church, "limp"
music: syd barrett, "effervescing elephant"
music: naked raygun, "o.k. wait"
music: patience & prudence, "i'm available"
music: yo la tengo, "somebody's baby"
music: modest mouse, "classy plastic lumber" (selection)
music: yo la tengo, "return to hot chicken"
music: modest mouse, "untitled" (reversed)
DAY 10 - Friday 4-13-18 - Panorama Route to Johannesburg
Depart after breakfast and travel to Mpumalanga Province, known as "Paradise Country," driving the spectacular "Panorama Route." Stop to admire the views of amazing scenery along the 16-mile-long Blyde River Canyon, cut deep into red sandstone, and God's Window (weather permitting), a breathtaking, edenic vista at the edge of the escarpment overlooking Kruger National Park. Visit Bourke's Luck Potholes, a series of waterfalls and distinctive rock formations created by countless millennia of water erosion before proceeding this afternoon to Johannesburg.
i was looking forward to a long, peaceful drive at this point in the trip, & the day didn't disappoint. we had breakfast of chicken livers in red sauce (i identified that they were livers, but had to ask from what animal), odd local grapefruit, & guava juice to a soundtrack of pure american 80s, including "vacation", "jungle nights", & "down under" - all a bit on the nose, really. (don't worry, sophie heard "africa" by toto in a bar she visited, so that happened.) i gave my game leftovers to ahmet since i wasn't going to eat any more & i knew they'd never make it through customs.
on the bus, ahmet grilled us on [easy] animal trivia, & of course i was the only one to know the largest snake in africa: the african rock python. (speaking of, there was a reptile place i could've visited, but didn't - the pamphlet showed the exact same rock python in three different photos on the same page, telling me they only have the one, & they boasted "bearded dragon feeding", which is... not exactly impressive at my level of reptile experience.) we passed the first mcdonalds i'd seen, though several KFCs were around. apropos of nothing, ahmet told us he heard the french-canadian tour group who'd been playing catch-up with us trying to pronounce "hazyview", the town we were in - though it's pronounced in english just like it looks, their accent made them guess it as "ahhs-vee". X)
we stopped at "god's window", the highest scenic viewpoint. on a clear day, you can see mozambique - but it was not a clear day. still impressive, though, & i finally remembered to get a photo with me in it. hi, i was in south africa. there was very interesting foliage up there, & i got ahmet to identify a cool tree for me, the sandpaper tree - it indeed had unique, rough leaves.
the next stop was bourke's luck potholes, & we were greeted by a huge danger sign that had some confusing demands in imagery - "no swimming" was obvious, as was "stay on the paths". i presume the guy looking at a flower with the red bar through it meant "don't pick the flowers" (i made sure to look at them just for spite), but the top image showed a dude falling off a cliff & there was no red line through it. so i can only understand that they really want you to plummet to your death. well, fair enough, but i spited them on that one too. & for the trifecta, i found a place with TWO signs saying not to go beyond this point; i figured they canceled each other out & immediately got a photo of myself beyond them. XD the photo of me on the rocks was taken by sophie - she didn't even realize i was in it until she got back to the coach, but it ended up being a perfect photo of me. ^_^
we were making good time, so ahmet took us to an extra stop at the lowveld viewpoint, & it was my favorite because it had LIZARDS! i believe they gray ones were little skinks, but i haven't yet been able to identify the ones with blue bodies & red tails. i WISH i'd taken my real camera, but i did the best i could with my phone, carefully approaching them by leaving the trail & climbing down some boulders when ahmet wasn't looking.
lunch was at dullstrom, a tiny little town but one used to tourists, where i had some of the best trout - the local specialty - that i've eaten at a place called the rose garden. it was smoky & buttery & had crispy skin, & their homemade bread & little salad were perfect with it. the only weird part was the music selections - we went from frank sinatra to a christian worship song & directly into... a polka? someone has eclectic taste. anyway, most of the others went to ahmet's favorite crepe house, but i didn't miss out, that's for sure. oh, & they had an african grey parrot that spoke with a british accent, & i made friends with him. *nods* there were souvenirs for sale at each stop we made, especially in dullstrom, but i didn't find any place selling the hippo planter i bought - there were some other half-hippos in little pools, but none with spots for plants & none as cute, anyway. i won souvenir shopping!
i photographed a place called the seattle coffee company (i have DOUBTS!) & sent the photo to some friends - luke said it was the seattle embassy, haha. we drove on towards johannesburg for several more hours while i read & listened to music. i bought a pre-packaged south african ice cream cone at a rest stop & it was lovely - crisp hazelnuts & a thin core of fudge. it wasn't as impressive as the ones i found in china, but it was well executed. ahmet played us some african music from the khoisan people that included clicking. our driver was khoisan, & said there are nearly a dozen types of click, but he couldn't tell me how any click is spelled or written. fortunately, i had enough cell signal to find this page, & i shared with the group.
entering joburg, we drove through back streets to avoid traffic & had an unexpected city tour from it. i saw a mattress store with the slogan "we will put you to sleep", but was too slow to photograph it. i did, however, shoot an... interesting sticker on a power box. we made it safely to our hotel - the "protea fire & ice!", including exclamation mark - & i rested a bit before venturing out for dinner. ahmet had suggested the grillhouse, just a couple blocks from the hotel. the menu had another new animal for me, so off i went.
upon arriving, the maître d' looked me over, smiled, & said my tour guide had JUST come by & said i'd be there, haha. sometimes it's a benefit to be highly identifiable - & it's definitely a benefit when your lovely & attentive tour guide knows you're on a carnivorous quest. :) they gave me a perfect table in the corner, & i had the best snails i've eaten, followed by new animal number nine: kingklip, a local eel species. ahmet had mentioned that kingklip is becoming rare - just like unagi, i suppose - but the wiki page gave me some hope, as many places in south africa are serving the local kingklip's new zealand cousin instead. either way, it was wonderful & i definitely made a good choice for dinner. i pirated some tv shows on the city wifi while i ate, then retired to the hotel.